Educators teach 2nd Lt a lesson

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Jessica Brown
  • 22nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Saturday began as any other work day with a rushed breakfast, slammed coffee and quick office meeting-- but I would soon learn the day was anything but ordinary.

This was my first time participating in an orientation flight, so I was still learning what to do. At our meeting we discussed final details to ensure things would run as smoothly as possible.

The run down was quick: the teachers would show at 8 a.m., be briefed by Col. Ricky Rupp, 22nd Air Refueling Wing commander, and Col. William Mason, 931st Air Refueling Group commander. The teachers would then have some time for questions before being bused to the flightline. They had to be on the plane ready to go no later than 10 a.m.

We were in the wing conference room as the teachers started to arrive. And about 10 minutes before the briefing started, 1st Lt. Austin Bartlett, 344th Air Refueling Squadron navigator, asked if I had been on a KC-135 Stratotanker flight before.

I shook my head and responded with, "No, not yet."

He turned to my boss, Maj. Doug Curran, 22nd ARW Public Affairs chief, and asked, "If she can get on the manifest, can she fly today?"

Curran agreed and after several phone calls and a little bit of paper work, I was ready to board a KC-135 for the first time.

I was excited, to say the least. I had never been on a tanker before and it would give me the opportunity to share the experience with 32 teachers from the Wichita, Kan., area. I would also witness McConnell's refueling mission first-hand.

With my trusty camera and notepad in hand, I stood behind the group of 16 excited teachers to board each KC-135. We took our seats, buckled in and were ready for take-off in a matter of minutes.

While in flight, I spoke with several teachers about their jobs and the students they taught. None had been on a KC-135 either, so they were as excited as I was.

"This is incredible," said Liz Roberts, Wichita North High School Senior English and advanced via individual determination instructor. "I'm impressed that McConnell reached out to the community."

Roberts and I talked about the AVID class she teaches and her efforts to convince her high students to continue education beyond high school. She also expressed that she loved that the Air Force cares about families enough to have an interest in teachers.

About half an hour into our conversation the teachers were invited in pairs to join the boom operator to observe the refueling of a B-2 Spirit. While waiting for our turn, Senior Airman Courtney Witt, 22nd ARW Public Affairs photographer, showed me where to sit and how to get the best angle for pictures.

Roberts expressed her excitement she was as she climbed out of the boom pod.

"We were so close!" she said showing me the photos she took on her smart phone. "We were so close to the B-2 that we could make out the labels on the pilot's soda."

After all the teachers had been through, Witt and I jumped down next to the boom operator with our cameras at the ready.

As I climbed down, I felt the hairs on my neck rise; not because it was spooky, but because I was not expecting it to be so cold. The second thing I noticed was that the boomer was working while lying on his stomach. He laughed as I awkwardly tried to get comfortable and aim my camera. He showed us some of the dials, levers and handles used to operate the boom.

I was in the boom for less than five minutes, but they were still some of the coolest minutes of my life. I had never seen a B-2 from 25 thousand feet above ground, while flying seven miles a minute. I did not expect to be as excited as I was. I watched in awe and took some pictures until we disconnected and the two planes went their separate ways.

When I returned to my seat I noticed some teachers sat quietly, immersed in their own thoughts while others enthusiastically discussed what we had just witnessed.

I was eagerly looking over the photos I had taken when Bartlett said I could join a teacher in the flight deck.

"Welcome!" Capt. Whit Nanna, 344th Air Refueling squadron pilot, said.

We barely heard him over the hum of the plane's engines. The small room was so bright; I had to squint in order to find my seat. After my eyes adjusted I notice all the little dials, knobs and levers. There were so many!

After a minute, I noticed Nanna was spending a lot of time looking up at what appeared to be a mirror, but with a closer look I could tell that it was actually a window.

All of the sudden a large plane came into view just a few feet above us, and I suddenly understood that we were not only refueling a B-2, we were also practicing receiving gas from another KC-135.

Then it dawned on me the significance of this training for our pilots. McConnell is the world's largest refueling base, with the ability to refuel aircraft anytime and anywhere, and it is important that they stay current in flying training.

We were about 12 feet away from the other KC-135, and close enough that I could see their boom operator's face through my camera lens. The pilots allowed me to take photos until they were finished and then I returned to my seat to wait for the landing.

As we were getting off the plane I couldn't help but notice the excited conversation and smiles the teachers shared with each other. We each had a turn in the boom and on the flight deck and I think we all came away with a new level of respect for what our Airmen do.

Gale Farmer, Wichita Collegiate School instructor, and Megan Gross, Adams Elementary Intermediate special education teacher, said they were going to share a presentation about their flight with their students Monday.

"It was neat to see the boomer working," Gross said. "You could tell he really likes his job."

And I can say that I really like my job, and I had an amazing first time on the KC-135.

Now, after experiencing my first flight, I have a better understanding of McConnell's mission and what our Airmen bring to the fight. I am also thankful to have shared this experience with these amazing teachers. I even have a better understanding of their jobs as well.

As educators, it is their responsibility to teach the next generation of Airmen and to raise them with values the Air Force can respect; and that is a critical mission as well.